By Mark Paulette
NFL training camps open across the country this week with all 32 teams sharing a collective goal of hoisting the Lombardi trophy on February 4th in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For many, this is simply a pipe dream. In fact, a very strong case could be made that it’s a pipe dream for 31 franchises as your defending champion, New England Patriots bolstered their team over the off-season to the point which they are the football-embodiment of Michelangelo’s David.
No team has repeated as Super Bowl champions since the ’03-’04 Pats. The current mini-dynasty encompassing titles in two of the past three years is the closest any team has come during the stretch. Yet, as the odds-on favorites to claim the sixth title during the Brady-Belichick era, I challenge those sacred few at One Patriot Place to set their sights ever higher. Strive for perfection.
Why not? With two separate dynasties spanning the better part of two decades, an undefeated season is about the only thing left unchecked on the team’s list of accomplishments. I’m not saying this as a greedy fan who isn’t satisfied with the many glories which have been heaped upon Patriots Nation. I do so from the calculated stand point of there being no better time to make a run at the historical number.
Julian Edelman scoffed at the idea when questioned on the subject, saying talk of the Pats going 19-0 is “stupid.” I’m sorry, Mr. Edelman, for as much as I will blindly stand by your side without waiver or question, you calling it stupid is what’s stupid.
If there was ever a time to think that 19-0 is something more than a fantasy conjured from entirely biased perceptions, it’s now. The Patriots are the defending champions, a.k.a. they were already the best team in the league. Then they supplemented an offense already capable of mass destruction with the additions of all-pro, Brandin Cooks, Dwayne Allen and Mike Gillislee, not to mention what looks to be a healthy Gronk. On the defensive side, they vaulted their secondary to second-to-none status by signing Stephon Gilmore, addressed the one ‘need’ at linebacker by bringing in David Harris, and beefed up the d-line by trading for Kony Ealy.
Captaining the ship is Captain Fantastic himself, Tom Brady, who at age 40 has frankly never looked better. If that’s not enough, throw in one of the most highly-coveted young arms in Jimmy Garappolo, who will make good use of that right arm, holding a clipboard from September-through-the first week of February.
On paper, this is the strongest team Bill Belichick has ever assembled. That includes the 18-1 ’07 squad, whose defensive flaws were masked, at least until the final 39 seconds, by one of the best offenses the game has seen. It includes the 14-2 teams of ’03 and ’04, who combined a top offense with throwback defenses, capable of beating any opponent into submission. Compare any of those team’s depth charts with this year’s and you won’t hesitate to crumple up the old.
New York is in shambles, Buffalo is attempting to rebuild yet again, and Miami has outdone their unrightfully cocky selves, guaranteeing a season sweep of New England. That should work out to 6-0. Outside the division, the Pats play the Chiefs, Texans, Panthers, Falcons and Chargers at home. During their travels, they’ll stop in New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Denver and Pittsburgh, plus a date with the Raiders in Mexico City. Before you tell me “it’s the NFL, there are trap games, fatigue, blah blah blah,” look at each of those games in a vacuum, as you would come game day, and tell me the Patriots aren’t the favorite in each one.
If you’re worried the pressures of an undefeated season would get to the players, remember just who we’re talking about here. This is the most tunnel-visioned, Kool Aid-sippin’ bunch in North American sports. This is an organization that tuned out the noise of the league’s greatest injustice (Deflategate) to win a Super Bowl less than two weeks later and when the nightmare continued by way of Tom Brady being suspended for the first four games on 2015, they won the Super Bowl again.
A team which prides itself on “doing your job,” if the Patriots simply do their respective jobs in 2017 there is no reason to believe 19-0 is out of the question, nor should it be.
Here’s to hoping the team embraces the taboo idea and shuts up Mercury Morris once and for all.
Mark Paulette is the Senior Producer of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.